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leaves

The leaves, having attended their annual costume party,  have been whipping around, making that inevitable trip downward from their lofty heights. I’ve been waiting for the orange cones to appear on the street, signifying that Hamilton’s big leaf-sucking trucks will be coming around the next day. I raked the thick blanket of maple leaves that has accumulated on my front yard into a big pile. I now keep watch, wondering if any of the school kids walking by will take the plunge into that soft heap of crunchy vegetation – I know I couldn’t resist when I was young.  Once those work-cones appear, I’ll rake the whole lot out on the street and hopefully be here to watch the big truck suck ‘em all up like a super-duper Molly Maid.  It always gives me a thrill. 

We are having a mid-November week of warm temperatures and hot sun, beautiful weather to be dealing with the final stages of the gardening season. In two weeks, I’ll be on my way to Costa Rica, and at this rate I won’t see even a flake of snow before I leave.  I’m anxious to get down there, as this weekend Wolf was back in the hospital with a series of seizures. He is already home again, and I’m not sure just what happened, except that he hit his head when he fell and needed stitches.

wolf

I don’t know if anyone knows what happened. I’m guessing it has to do with his medications, whether he is taking them properly or not, whether they are collectively causing problems while individually dealing with his diabetes, prostate, bipolarity and knee pain. Someone suggested that he was de-hydrated. With all that water on the mountain, particularly in the streams that the Quakers have been protecting all of these years, Wolf should be drinking lots of water even if he has to go get it straight from the stream if he doesn’t like it by the glass.  I’m relieved to know that he was released quickly, which means it was a passing concern, but I know that he must be getting very discouraged and frustrated with these recurring episodes. For the moment, it would seem that Wolf is okay.  

Good health is fleeting. Sometimes it disappears as quickly as it takes the heart to burst and other times it is a long slow cancer that sneaks up. You need to really appreciate good health when you have it – and it generally takes having cancer (as I did) or something chronic for that to sink in. As often as not, there are signs that things are going wrong whether with our personal health or our relationships, and we may choose to turn a blind eye and avoid the truth as long as possible. So is it also with the health of our communities and forests and waterways – the disease has been settling in for decades now. The planet is suffering from chronic illness and we can’t remain blind to the reality.

I recently received an email from friends in San Pedro de Laguna, Guatemala. I wrote a couple blogs about this lakeside town when I spent Christmas there last year (The Land of the Mayans/The Magic of San Pedro posts.) The email is a call for people to help the communities around Lake Atitlan that are trying to deal with the decreasing health of this beautiful mountainous laguna. I am copying some of that letter here with the hopes that people who come to my blog may read it and pass it on, and in this way perhaps the people who are struggling with this will get help from the rest of the world.

lake_atitlan[1]

This is coming from a group “Todos por el Lago” but, as they state in the letter, the concern about the lake’s health has been discussed for years by a number of groups. Development and tourism on the lake is growing and putting more stress on the area without appropriate measures being implemented to deal with the inevitable problems. It is a very long, detailed letter written in Spanish and translated into English. I have edited it and only included parts, but if you want to read the whole thing or contact the group, this is their twitter account:

 lakeatitlan http://twitter.com/todosporellago 

The following paragraphs come out of their communication:  

“Unfortunately, it seems like we are about to witness a drama way more serious than we would like to believe. It has been a year now since we have started to see scary signs that something really wrong is going on with the lake water -algae, skin diseases and stomach problems of swimmers, dying fish, cyanobacteria and even sewage smells – and it feels like somehow we have chosen not to see those signs. There is no worse blindness than the one of who does not want to see and in this case, the reality we have in front of our eyes seems so terrible that it produces immediate blindness. I feel like maybe what we are witnessing is the beginning of the end of a way of life we all fell in love with at some point, that being the reason why we decided to make this our way of life. The death of this lake would be the death of a dream-like environment -one of the most beautiful in the world – of the life style of ancient Mayan villages that have a lot to teach, a lot to live, and also the death of this little sociological experiment of which we are all part, a mixture of people with different nationalities, ages and cultures that got together here in a unwritten decision to live together a different life style to the ones we left behind back home.   

“From our point of view the pace in which Mayan villagers have had to adapt to the consequences of the so called industrial development has been unnatural – it did not leave them space or time to understand the negative effects of consumerism and of lack of inorganic rubbish -and other byproducts- treatment. Because of this, us ¨westerners¨ who inhabit this land that has  belonged to the Mayan since the beginning of time, have the obligation of doing all we can for these people to have an understanding of how the byproducts of consumerism can affect their environment, and with it their way of life.

“We have some ideas for discussion we have obtained from neighbours and friends, that could be little seeds for community dialogue:   

  1. Organise informative meetings that explain not only in Spanish, but also in Kakchikel, Tzutujil and English what the lake is actually suffering, what are the symptoms, what are the causes and what will be both the long term and short term effects.  
  2.  Information is the key, let’s inform everybody, let’s make signs, drawings, posters, get out there and pass the info around, the lake is seriously ill, yes, we are not exaggerating, you just have to look at the water surface, at the sewage in Tzanjuyu… let’s do something! 
  3. We have to appeal to international organisations, whether it be realm of govnermental or non-governmental, contact everyone we can think of , Greenpeace, European Commission for Environment… we are sure there must be inhabitants and visitors of the lake with contacts, ideas, let’s use them!  Let’s motivate them!  There are home owners in San Lucas belonging to the entreprenereal world, let’s ask them for help!  From the local business to the political world there are people who may have vested interests in the lake – take whatever steps necessary to find funds, subsidies and international aid to fund treatment plants, studies and technologies that would give us organic alternatives to harmful phosphates, that is to get SOLUTIONS.  We also need information about whether it is possible not just to prevent the growth of bacterias but if there is a way to undo the damage already caused by what already exists here!   
  4. We need to stop the sewage from going into the lake.  We have all heard at some point that this and that embassy or organization has proposed to finance some treatment plant but then it has never happened, is this true?  can anybody give exact information?  we all need to know what has happened in order to take action… 
  5.  We need to stop the use of chemical products for  agriculture.  This means not only educating the workers in the agricultural sector, but maybe taking more drastic measures like prohibiting the total use of these products in the entire surrounding areas of the lake; a comment made by a neighbour in Santa Cruz: if they can make a law that prohibits smoking in public spaces, why can’t they make a law that prohibits bloody phosphates!?   The huge coffee plantations should have to set an example for all and make their crops organic, in this way also giving greater worth  -come on, ORGANIC is a magic word today in the west!- and more international fame to Guatemalan coffee.  But what is the likelihood that civil society has the power so that this is really going to happen­?
atitlan[1]

“We need to begin to organise ourselves, do something now, before it’s too late, and not sit here waiting in the hope that the algaes on the surface disappear from sight so that we can act like nothing’s happened.  IT´S HAPPENED, and there’s no pretending that this is just a surface problem anymore.  Let’s start the  DEBATE  with this fórum and hold meetings so that every single person will contribute what they can, only in this way will we be able to save the lake.  We are offering what we have: our doors are open to be used as a meeting space, we offer our time  to translate   and  our  energy, the important thing is to see that everyone is ready and is going to actually  SPREAD THE WORD, this will be the seed towards change, hopefully! ”  

* * * * *
  
I have watched the changes in Costa Rica over twenty years of going there while development swelled around me. If you are a thinking person, at least one with no personal benefit involved, you can’t help but dismay at what results when tourism takes off in an area. When it is a beautiful landscape, many tourists will find ways to return, to stay and build homes and participate in the local economy. It’s inevitably a double-edged sword, bringing development to a depressed economy, at the same time changing the lives of locals and their environment forever. Even when people try hard to do things in smart and responsible ways, at a certain point, “progress” takes over and often spins out of control.
 
It happens all over the world. When I hear North Americans complaining about immigrants, I think of how many of us have moved elsewhere in the world, bringing our development and consumerism with us. We forever change an area and not always for the good. I don’t call it progress when we turn people who have lived well on the land into hardcore consumers, dependent on foreign-produced goods and hankering for bigger, better, shinier, faster. However, this has happened as long as people have been walking and moving, and will continue, so there is no point in thinking you can stop the movement nor stop the process of migration and integration.
 
 But, as this letter is asking, we need to seriously look at how we integrate and the new influences we are bringing. How do we help the earth’s natural systems adapt to the new waves of population as well as the old communities develop into healthy new ones?
  
If you have ever been to this magical lake in Guatemala, or hope to go there one day, or simply have a means to respond to their cry for help, please do what you can.  Or do something for a lake or community that is suffering close to your home. There is never a shortage of crises. There shouldn’t be a shortage of minds, hearts and hands reaching out to help our global family and the land, water and air that sustains us.
 
snoopy_woodstcok_jumping_leaves[1]
 
 
As I have been writing, the orange cones appeared, so I moved the leaves to the street. I’m laughing along with the kids who are coming home from school and leaping through the pile, squealing and shouting in glee! It reinforces the fact that joy comes from the simplest things, as often as not straight out of Mother Earth’s special box of toys. So kiddies, take care of those toys and keep the box safe.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

   

 

 

temagami lake

Today I realized, while looking at a poster of the event that hangs on the wall behind me, that exactly twenty years ago I was standing on the steps of Queen’s Park in Toronto, facing a crowd of 1500 concerned citizens. I’d come down to the big city from a remote camp on a lake in the Temagami area of northeastern Ontario. For six weeks I’d been living with a group of activists who were blockading the construction of a logging road. I was a member of the board of the Temagami Wilderness Society who had initiated the blockade. We started off with over two hundred enthusiastic supporters in September, many who were arrested for standing their ground against the big machines, and as the weeks went by we held our position but with less and less visitors. They were either cops or construction workers, Indians from the area, the occasional journalist with a budget to fly-in, or committed souls hardy enough to make the day trip paddle into the camp. Those of us who lived fulltime in the bush throughout the several weeks of the blockade were all folks who thrived in this natural environment, but by the sixth week we were definitely getting kind of bushed.

poster

 

 

When a rally was called for October 29, 1989 in Toronto to support the action in the Temagami forest – “Halt the Chainsaw Massacre!” the t-shirts proclaimed – organizers wanted someone to come and describe what was going on up there. So I cleaned up and went south to the city.  

 

blockade-rae[1]

I was on the same bill as half a dozen people, including a powerful anti-racist and warrior for aboriginal rights, the late Rodney Bobiwash, as well as Bob Rae. In his finest hour, the year before he became Ontario’s first NDP premier, Bob came and supported our action in the woods, getting taken out in the paddy wagon. He also helped keep the issue in the news and on the government’s agenda. That afternoon on the concrete steps, each of us spoke about the need to protect the old growth pine forests and the integrity of the wilderness surrounding Temagami and search for long term solutions for jobs for people living in the area. We also spoke of the great responsibility the government had to finally settle the local first nation’s land claim that had been steeping in a bowl of tepid  tea for years. The Teme-Augama Anishnabai’s struggle for justice was peaking. It was a very powerful time, one of those moments when you think that what you are doing might really make a difference to the future of your community and our planet.

 Pyramid road tiesI remember walking up those steps, feeling a little shaky, and turning to face a sea of excited and expectant faces After having lived a very primal existence for weeks, albeit one kept charged by constant intense discussion and political awareness, I felt like a wild beast who’s been invited to the dinner table.  I truly don’t remember exactly what I said but I know it was received warmly. I knew that TWS wanted me to explain our present position – that the action was still alive, we were hoping more people would come and stand strong with us against the construction, that we were still in talks behind-the-scenes with the government to get the road stopped. Organizers had told me that people needed to put a human face on activism and so to just speak from my heart (which tends to be the only way I wanna go). Because the blockade was five hours north on the highway and another several hours in by lake, they wanted me to bring the thoughts and feelings of the protestors to supporters in the city who couldn’t take that long trip north.

chainsaw[1]

The fifteen minutes that I spoke flew by in a haze of culture shock that I survived due to my great belief in the cause and my ability to ramble on. I didn’t get to see a recording as this was before everyone carried a cell phone.  I only know that it was a powerful hour or so that we spent on the front landing of Queen’s Park. And I came to realize, clearer than ever before, that there is nothing in powerful political action that can substitute for sharing first-hand experience, bringing the issues down to the human level, maintaining open dialogue, and feeling passion for justice.

Bonnie%20Raitt[1]

The other thing I remember about that whirlwind trip to Toronto (I quickly retreated back to the camp the next day) was going to see Bonnie Raitt in concert but ending up falling for Lyle Lovett. One of my buddies in the bush, Eddy, knew that Bonnie was going to be playing and insisted that I buy a ticket for myself with his credit card and enjoy the show for the dozen or so folks left at camp. Her latest album, Nick of Time, was one of the few cassettes that we had with us to listen to at camp on our little battery-run cassette player – it became a big part of the soundtrack of the blockade and we were all huge fans.

lylelovett[1]

With my friend Cocky and a couple of others, we went to see the concert. This guy we had barely heard of shared the bill with Bonnie. By the time Lyle Lovett and his Large Band played their larger-than-life set, we were all blown away by his talent, energy, and the range of his music. We were exhausted by the time Bonnie came out – she was fantastic too, but Lyle had been the bomb.

Yes, October 29, 1989 was an amazing day in my life.

k & boys

Twenty-years later, I find myself living half of my life in a city (the hard rock Hammer), the other half in Costa Rica (which I barely knew a thing about in 1989), communicating through a thing called a blog, staying in touch by e-mail, and hanging from time to time in a strange community called the Facebook.  I’ve written a book about a man, Wolf Guindon,  I hadn’t yet met in 89  (but would soon) and loved then lost a few men more. I had cancer but it didn’t kill me. I just spent October 29, 2009 healthy, happy and with pretty much the same political beliefs and value system that sent me from a camp in the bush to the steps of Queen’s Park twenty years ago. And music is still a huge part of what I love about living.

peace_1222692145_01

They say as you get older you get more conservative. Fortunately, that particular sickness doesn’t seem to have struck me. I may better understand and anticipate the results of my actions and the risks I’m willing to assume in all matters of life now, but I still believe in working for social justice and that still falls on the left side of the pendulum swing. I believe in the power of the grassroots, that establishing peace is paramount, and that a just world would be a healthier world (and vice versa). Besides that, it’s more complicated than ever, the questions becoming more numerous, the answers always dangling ahead of us like a carrot that baits the rabbit that  tempts the dog – in the end no one wins if we don’t hook on to the solution. I try not to lose perspective or hope. I refuse to not feel joy on a daily basis despite all the news that forces a thinking person to the dark side. I continue to retreat to the bush or the jungle or to the base of the nearest tree to regain my balance, renew my passion, and self-medicate myself with nature’s restorative elixirs.

tropical

 

 

Fortunately, in about three weeks, I have a date with a tropical cure.

 

 

 Time has been passing quickly. In a couple of days, Veronica and Stuart will return and my days as a relatively-sane-yet-losing-it-tamer-of-canines will end. I like to think that I’ve had some small influence on Chique (also known as Wilkens after a similarly-whiskered Caribbean character and, on bad days, as Cinderello, for having to survive life with his two nasty sisters), Cutie Pie (La Negrita, Blackie or La Salchichona, having grown to a good-sized sausage), and the one-of-a-kind one-nice-name-only Betsy the mad cow. But every time I think that I may have made a point about good behavior that stuck, I come home and the newspapers on the table have been ripped to shreds the size of a classified ad (including a copy of Quaker Monthly, a publication out of London, England that Wolf had just given me as there is an article I wrote in it this month), another corner of the recently-new chair has been chewed away despite being slathered in hot chili peppers, and the line between not jumping up on me and using me as a vertical mosh pit has blurred again.

 

k-and-dog

A couple of days after Veronica returns, I’ll be taking a break and heading to San Carlos, to see my friends over there – no dogs there, not even cats, just blessed slow, quiet sloths in the trees. Sigh. After that, some boys from the Hammer come down and I will go off to play guide around the country which is always fun. 

 

 

takako

In the meantime, Wolf and I and our Reserve friend Mercedes go for dinner tomorrow night with a group coming from the city of Okayama. This is the Japanese sister city of San José and they are celebrating their 40th anniversary of that relationship. Their translator and guide is none-other-than our friend Takako Usui, who was with the three of us on the hike that makes up the last chapter of Walking with Wolf.  She invited us to have dinner with the mayor and other dignitaries while they are here on a short trip up from San José to see Monteverde. We aren’t actually doing a presentation but instead will show photo images as a backdrop to dinner and while we eat will talk about the community, the conservation efforts and successes, and the role of ecotourism in the area.

 

 

mercedes

Mercedes teaches natural history courses for groups at the Reserve, Wolf comes with his own lifetime of experiences and of course I wrote the book, but the real reason Takako has asked the three of us to talk with this group is because of her time spent with us – those four days in the high wet cloud forest, slogging through the thick vegetation, breathing in the humid beauty, talking late into the night from our dry clean sleeping-bag oases surrounded by a world of mud and moisture. I think she wants us to talk as much from our view as people who love to be in the richness of that natural chaos as much as being people who have taken part in the chaos of environmental politics. 

 

Either way, we get a free meal at the Hotel Montaña, no doubt an interesting evening with curious people from the other side of the world, and maybe will even sell some books. And get to visit with our friend Takako, the secretary of the Japanese-Costa Rican Friendship Association. I find it only slightly coincidental that these folks are coming from O-KAY-ama in the year of Obama, O-Kay? I often read too much into these things…

 

Much of my last week was spent in the process of moving, sorting, organizing and ultimately storing or selling the personal effects of our friends Andy Sninsky and Inge Holecek. They are a couple of long time Monteverde residents who have spent most of the last year over in Austria in a very tough battle with Andy’s cancer. He has gone through the roughest of treatments and is now waiting to rebuild his strength and weight so that he can have a stem cell transplant. His many friends here keep him in their hearts and hold both him and Inge, no doubt his secret weapon of strength in this great battle, in the light. 

 

guans

When it became clear that they wouldn’t be returning soon to Monteverde, they needed their stuff, which they had left relatively innocently and unsorted behind, to be removed from their rental house. Some of it is to be shipped to them, some stored, but much of it was to be sold in a katchi-batchi, garage sale. The Monteverde Institute lent us one of their classrooms where Jane Wolfe and I and number of other volunteers spent three days going through the myriad of stuff – the physical effects of other peoples’ lives.

 

I love to organize and purge. I often do it when I go home after a few months of living out of a backpack – how come we need more than that? We got through everything in three days, priced it to sell, and in a whirlwind of bargain shopping on Saturday, managed to get rid of everything. We raised some money and found homes for the stuff that Inge wants to keep. I fell asleep one of those nights to flocks of plastic junk – tupperware, dishes, containers, bags – flying through my approaching dreams.

 

 

red-flower 

We were all happy to help Inge and Andy out and knew that by taking care of their stuff, a chunk of concern could be taken off their list of worries when they obviously have so many other more serious concerns. I hope they felt the love from Monteverde over there in Europe – it was certainly radiating out on Saturday from those of us who are thinking of them and from others as they became aware of what the impetus behind the sale was. Stay strong both of you – as a survivor, I send you hope.

 

 

clean-trail

One day earlier this week, I arrived on another blowy, misty day at the Reserve to meet Wolf and take our spot in our coffee-shop office and see if we could sell books. I bumped into Mercedes and Marcos outside who told me that Wolf was talking about going for a walk. I wasn’t particularly dressed for walking with Wolf that day in the damp forest, but wouldn’t miss the opportunity. Sure enough, after a cup of coffee, he said that he wanted to get out in the forest and get some exercise and stretch his legs.

waterfall

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So we headed out on the River Trail, a mostly flat, wide, recently refinished trail that takes hikers the easy way to the waterfall a kilometer or so away.

 

 

 

 

 

 

with-stick

However the sport is still called “walking with Wolf” and even though he is slower, walks with a stick, and tires easier, Wolf is still an off-the-beaten-trail kinda guy. Though we meandered pretty leisurely down to the waterfall, I could see his attention taken by some little side trails barely noticeable in the underbrush of the thick forest. Wolf knows this forest like his own family-tree and is very aware of every recently fallen branch, every new view revealed, and each unfinished path that he would love to keep working on.

 

 

A group of northern Europeans came by as he was slashing away at the vegetation with his walking stick, having forgotten to bring his machete. I suppose he would appear slightly mad to the uninitiated. I saw the look on one of the women’s faces and quickly explained that although it looked very illegal – this grey-haired man energetically knocking down the precious plants of the Cloud Forest Reserve at the side of the trail – that actually Wolf had designed the trails and was still quite active in re-designing them. Once they realized they were in the presence of “the man”, they looked relieved and then they seemed to be really trying to make sense of Wolf’s destructive, if joyful, manner.

 

wolf-in-slash

Sure enough, Wolf and I ended up wandering off the neat clean trail as a light rain fell and a cool breeze blew, up a small slash from a treefall, around the huge branched head of a fallen cedro, through the muddy seam of a slip of a stream, along the dirt ledge created where the shallow but widespread roots of another huge tree had pulled out of the earth, all the time heading to a trail that was cut a couple of years ago. It had been started on the Bosque Eterno land but then stopped when interested parties couldn’t reach an agreement on its use.

 

leaves

Bosque Eterno is the original piece of land put aside by the Quakers when they started dividing up the land in Monteverde back in 1951 and wanted mainly to protect their forested watershed up on the top of the mountain. It was leased for very little to the Tropical Science Center in 1973 as one of the first pieces of land that made up the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. There is an organization, Bosque Eterno S.A., which keeps an eye on the property, just as the Tropical Science Center administers the whole Reserve. In the process of changing people and changing times, the relationship between the Reserve and BESA ebbs and flows and the future of the land and its uses also changes.

 

tree-shapes

Wolf and I had been on this trail a couple of years ago when the controversy over its development started. The cleared path still exists, wide as it is, but is quickly filling in. Where fallen brush has obscured the route, there is no clear way around to the continuing trail. Of course we made one, Wolf steadily hacking away with his stick. The extreme rains of this past wet season have left the scars of landslides all over the mountain and this area is no exception. We hit a spot where the mud that came down in a landslide looked too thick to maneuver, where a tree completely blocked our way and it was looking like our only choice was to go back from where we came. I refused, never being one for retracing my steps, and instead found a leafy ledge in the mud that would hold us up as we crawled upward. On the other side of it all, surrounded by waist-high thick vegetation, Wolf was explaining that we should be heading off towards a big tree marker to meet up with the old trail just as I almost flipped over an old block buried deep in the foliage from the long-time unused bit of trail. We had arrived right on target again, guided by Wolf’s innate sense of direction in this playground of his and sheer luck.

 

wolf-begonia

By the time we got out of the forest a couple of hours had passed, I was soaked and chilled, but we were both happy for having had spent the time wandering around like wood nymphs, peeking out through the leafy walls at the views across the valley, proving that we could still find our way through the chaos and follow our laughter down the streambeds. It is an enduring pleasure to be walking with Wolf even when the physical conditions are demanding. Like having cancer, it’s all been a grand experience once you survive it.   

 

I have to tell you that the rain on the zinc roof tonight, as I sit writing this, is ferocious. My neighbor Jason stopped in on his way to go for a run and returned soaked and chilled. Although even light mist blown in the wind here can sound like freezing rain, usually it doesn’t amount to much. But it sounds like a hurricane out there tonight, keeping me and the dogs on edge. A good night to crawl into bed and read Call of the Wild, Jack London’s beautiful story about Buck the dog forced into a northern life of hardship. It was one of my favorites as a child. My mother read it to my sister and me when we were kids and it always touched me deeply.

 

wolf-in-moon

I’m thinking that I should be reading this to these three little spoiled dogs I’m living with so they can hear about poor ol’ Buck’s enslavement in the far north and take heed. In the pocketbook version I picked up out of Inge’s stuff the other day, the introduction explains Jack London’s socialist leanings with a deep underbelly of individualism…I think this story may have had more of an effect on me than I’ve been aware.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It is a joyous occasion when your hard work and your good friends come together to create an event that is exactly what you want.  This was what happened on Saturday night at the Pearl Company here in Hamilton – the official Canadian launch of Walking with Wolf was a magical evening. Just like the first presentation that Wolf and I did for the book in Monteverde at Bromelias, it was a full house, very positive, fun, successful – yes, magical.

It took place at the beautiful Pearl Company, a three-story brick building that originally housed a coffin factory and later a costume jewelry business which left pearls inbedded in the cracks between the wide pine floorboards.  The bottom floor is a stunning art gallery space with a boutique that sells locally-produced art and books, including Walking with Wolf; the second floor is this large acoustically-live performance space; the third floor is the studio apartment of Gary Santucci and Barbara Milne, the owners.  They bought the building about three years ago and have restored it to the glorious gem that it is now, and have started spreading that renewal around the neighbourhood with an association they got started to bring some unity to this rather marginalized city barrio. 

Recently they joined forces with Ron Weihs and Judith Sandford, who are transplants from the Toronto theatre scene.  They are now the artistic directors of the performance space.  They helped with the physical set up of the room for our event.  They are introducing a whole new program to the Pearl, regularly scheduled theatrical, musical and spoken word evenings.  The Pearl continues to grow into a great cultural community situated in this grand old building which deserves this chance at a renewed life.  There was never any doubt in my mind that this would be the perfect place for a book launch and it truly was.

With the help of my friends – Cocky who was here visiting me and helped me get my act together; Freda and Mike Cole who did almost all the food (I threw in a bean dip and some marinated mushrooms, but otherwise Freda, as usual, fed the masses her delicious creations); Kathryn and Bob Johnston who took care of the sales table – the evening went off without a glitch. 

People estimate that there were maybe up to 130 people there – we charged $5 at the door to cover expenses, and it did!  The important thing is the building was filled with friends, old and new, all enthusiastic and supportive – there was a lot of love in the room that night.  How lucky am I? I ask that, but I know that this book project has been surrounded by love and support since it started, particularly in the last year of getting the book done and now getting it out to the reading public. 

My wonderful friends Al and Jean Bair (on the left in the photo), along with their daughter Sandy and her husband Bruce and their sons Ben and Jacob, came from Petawawa.  A long time ago I asked Al if he would do me the honor of introducing me when the day came to present the book. I met Al and Jean in Monteverde in 1995 when they had a house in the area and, like me, spent a lot of time there each year.  Our friendship grew here in Canada.  I love this couple and admire how they live and most of all the strength of their family-bond.  They have five very successful children, who with their spouses and the grandchildren, make a very tight unit with Al and Jean.  It is one of the most dynamic, smart and colourful families I have known (like the Guindons, but different).  Al and Jean are not like parents to me, mentors is a better word, friends is the best. When my parents died in the late 90s, Al and Jean provided great comfort and guidance, but most of all made me laugh and made me feel that everything would be okay. When I have the chance to spend time with them, whether in their home or traveling together somewhere, the conversation is always interesting and honest and hugely entertaining. 

Al gave an introduction that brought me to tears with his kind words about how we had met, about our travels together, and how I am almost more Costa Rican than many Costa Ricans he knows.  I sure picked the right person to introduce me – as many people said to me later in the evening, that man sure loves you.  The feeling is very mutual.

 

 

 

 

There was a small technical glitch with my laptop as the room was filling up and I was wanting to start the images on the screen.  Thankfully the computer geeks in the crowd stepped in and took over, including Bruce who has helped me every step of the way with the book, and Al’s grandsons. I stayed calm, kept greeting people, and believed everything would work out, and it did.  One must love their geek friends.

Ben and Jacob, the Bair grandsons, geeks of glory

 

The crowd who came out represented many periods of my life and communities that I’ve been part of. Doug Agnew, who was my teacher from Grade 5 to Grade 8, and his wife Janice came.  I reconnected about ten years ago with them and stay in touch, having dinner together once every couple of years.  Doug was my absolutely favorite teacher from all my schooling years. It was just a huge shock when we reconnected and got talking and found out that this man, whose word we took as law, who we looked up to as our guide when we were about ten years old, was only 21 himself when he started teaching us! Twenty-one! And we thought he was this wise old man!  I have always felt that his four years of teaching played a huge part, along with my parents, in my formation and so I have to give some credit to him for who I am and what I do now.  That may or may not please him (depending on what he thinks of who I am now), but it is meant with the greatest of respect and affection.

Christine Carleton and I took a couple of creative writing classes together at Mohawk College back in 2001 when I was prepping myself for writing the book.  We then joined with Joanne Levy and Kelly White and a couple of other aspiring writers to form a writing group, to read and critique each other’s writing.  Although eventually our group fell apart, I did receive some great feedback from them on the early chapters in the early stages.  Christine and Kelly came to the Pearl – we all just shake ourselves, me included, that one of us has actually published something! Christine particularly was a very supportive writing mate and has offered much encouragement over the years. It was great to see her.

Besides Cocky from Maine and the Bairs from Petawawa, there were friends from Toronto like Deb Holahan and Tory Byers and Lynda Lehman from Guelph brought my editor Jane Pavanel down. She came all the way from Montreal (via Guelph) for the occasion and wo-manned the entrance, extracting $5 out of everybody without exception – good work Jane! She also brought me six of the best butter tarts in the world! It was wonderful to see her, to have her there to celebrate this book, as she played a huge role in its creation.  The relationship between editor and writer is a difficult one, as they just want to mess with your words, throw them around, throw them out, but the end product has as much do to their diligence as the writer’s. So Jane deserves much credit for the flow and clarity of the writing in Walking with Wolf.  And I’m very happy to call her a friend and that she was able to come to Hamilton for the book launch.

Ken Kroesser, who did the cover and maps, and Bruce MacLean, who did the index, and prepared the photographs and the copy for the printer, also came from Toronto.  I am in awe of these men.  I can’t say enough about how much help they have given me in all aspects of designing, finishing and now marketing the book.  Ken lives in anonymity (he worries that my blog will bring him undue notoriety) but is a very successful designer and brand-man – and a very recently married man – and brought me a belated birthday gift of Walking with Wolf bookmarks – my new calling card.  How lucky have I been to get to know these two and benefit from their knowledge and professionalism.  I just adore them and was thrilled that they too came out. I was only sorry that the last person in the team who helped me turn my manuscript into a book, Laurie Hollis-Walker, couldn’t make it.  She should have been there to receive her share of my praise.

It was wonderful to see friends from the Bruce Trail – Bill and Barb Cannon, Barbara and Ian Reid, Ivor Mansell, and of course Shirley Klement. They were good friends of my parents who became good friends of mine.  Also the Poag and Johnston family – besides Bob and Kathryn, her mom, Doreen, and their daughters Marianne and Sarah (along with Joe, the about to be husband), came out in support.  They are as close to family as anyone can get without having a drop of genetic blood in our veins.

My Uncle Paul and Aunt Lois, along with my cousins Barbara (in the picture with me) (and John) and Stephen (and Laurie) showed up, coming from Mississauga and Fergus.  I haven’t seen any of these Chornooks in a long time and I was sorry that I didn’t have more time to actually chat, but I was very touched that they would all come and support me – they had already bought and read the book this summer, but I was able to sign their copies.

  

Wendy and Robert E. Ross showed up. Robert is a very established painter in Hamilton who I met many years ago and happened to run into recently.  I had invited him to the launch and was very happy that he and Wendy showed up.  Receiving support from people in the arts community here is important – and I try to go out and support people in the various arts myself.  There were also a number of people from the musical community, including JP (Paul) Riemens, a great singer-songwriter and music producer in Hamilton. He is a friend of Lori Yates, of the Evelyn Dicks, who performed that night at the Pearl, and I’ve met him a couple of times.

Judith Sandford, JP Riemens, Edgar Breau

 

On Thursday night Cocky and I went to see him play at a local bar. We got into a discussion about house parties that hire musicians to play – there is a whole circuit across Canada that musicians get linked into.  He was telling us about playing a house concert in northern Ontario near Sudbury, which was put on by Laurientian University professors to celebrate people who were receiving honorary degrees that day.  As he said this, Cocky and I both piped up “Jean Trickey” – our friend from Little Rock (refer to blog: 50 and Kstock 2008) – and sure enough when she was in Sudbury to receive her honorary degree, she had ended up at this party that Paul and his band the Barflies played at.  He had talked with her and told us how the whole tour could have ended right there for him, that was the highlight, speaking with this civil rights icon and fascinating woman.  When he found out that she had just been in Hamilton last week for my birthday he was disappointed that we hadn’t had this conversation a week earlier, as he could have seen her again. It’s a big big country, our Canada, but it’s a small small world.

My former primary nurse from my cancer days, Trish Haines, came as well – another person who is thanked in the book, along with my doctor Dr. Ralph Meyer, for the great care they provided during my cancer-fighting days. I’m proud to call her my friend still and was very happy to see her.  Another Patricia, the one I go to for the occasional facial or massage – actually now she comes to me with her Beautiful Needs mobile spa – showed up with a lovely flower arrangement that she had made, full of best wishes and kind thoughts.  This is her with Mike and Freda Cole, taking a break from the food table

Cocky, who has been staying with me (she has fallen in love with the Hammer and is looking for excuses to come here now), and I managed to get everything together, along with Mike and Freda, and got to the Pearl on time, but managed to leave my cheat sheets at home.  I don’t have a problem talking in front of a crowd, and I always wing it, never read it, but I am sensible enough to write down a few points on a paper, in case I lose my way.  But since I left the paper at home, I was on my own.  People were very kind with their praise afterward, so I guess it all went well enough. I only stumbled once, when I looked up and saw my friend Wendy reacting to a picture on the screen behind me, but other than that I pretty much said what I wanted to. 

I read from a couple of chapters in the book – the end of the first chapter that introduces Wolf and how this project began, and then a couple pages about snakes.  As I do book events and readings, I like to read something from both my own narration and Wolf’s dialogue but also like to add one of the stories that other people provided me with.  It gives a fair representation of the book, an idea as to how it is composed. I figured that in this urban crowd, many people would be icky about snakes and I was right. So I read Gary Diller’s great story about Wolf bringing a fer-de-lance out of the jungle and setting him up for a fall in front of his clients as well as a number of Wolf’s stories about snakes. Well, what better way to take the city folk on a literary trip to the jungle than by talking about snakes! I could hear people squirming in their seats, just the reaction I wanted. 

Well, as I said there were well over a hundred people there, I can’t mention them all, but suffice it to say that the room was filled with friendly faces, supportive souls and classy characters.  We sold 39 books and I signed others that people had bought elsewhere.  Did I feel like a queen? You betcha! It was a wonderful feeling to celebrate in Hamilton with all these people. 

 

And when my little talk was finished, that irreverent band of Hammer superstars, the Evelyn Dicks, stepped up and blew the roof off the building. Their songs are all written around the notorious Evelyn Dick, serial murderess of Hamilton’s past, femme fatale.  Lori Yates and Lynn Buckshot Beebe, dressed the part – femme fatales themselves – in classic red and black vintage dresses – the boys in the band, Chris Houston, Cleave Anderson and Jimmy Vapid, provide the rockin rhythm section to these two front women (and Chris steps up and growls out a few songs as well). But the attitude that exudes out of these ladies, and the humor they toss around like balls looking for a bat, amused the audience and kept those of us who are keen to be dancing on our feet.  Lori gave me this band as a gift for the night – my abundant appreciation goes out to her for topping off an already successful literary-type evening with the Dicks brand of musical mayhem.  The Dicks rocked the house, sent some folks right out the door, but thoroughly entertained those of us who stayed on.

My new friend Larry Strung, who has been documenting the faces of Hamilton, one day at a time, each day of 2008, and creating a photographic record on his website http://hamilton365.com also showed up and took some photos, including this great shot of the Dicks in all their glory.

When the party was over, a number of us moved on to a local pub, The Cat and Fiddle, to hear JP Riemens bandmates, Linda Duemo, Brian Griffith and friends, playing rockabilly kinda music that kept us all dancing.  They had to kick us out. The musicians were all tired, having played at the Locke Street Festival that was also on that day.  But it didn’t show in their music and no doubt the infusion of this gang of happy post-book-launch celebrants helped spike their energy back up. 

Cocky, my friends Shirley, Jeff and I came home by 3 a.m.  Cocky decided we were hungry and she would make us an omelet.  Now I have to say that we were all fine from a night of minimal drinking and maximum dancing, but my pal Jeff was slightly inebriated unlike the rest of us.  When he saw that Cocky was cooking, he decided that he would step up and take over.  He has fed me many great meals, I know that he is a good cook, but I was a little concerned that he should be driving that frying pan in his condition. Shirley and I sat back and watched the two of them negotiating in the kitchen, Cocky (very unlike herself) letting him take over, bringing him ingredients.  I wondered how long it would be before he was kicked to the curb and she took control of the frying pan.  The three of us women were rolling our eyeballs wondering what he was going to concoct, and I must say without belief that he was going to be able to prepare much of anything.

And then, as we sat in our silent cynism, that man picked up that great big frying pan and did the most perfect flip of a multi-egged omelet that I have ever seen! WOW we all blurted out! Anyone who could make that great big omelet do a perfect back flip in the air and back into the pan can drive my frying pan any day! We lost our disbelief immediately and a couple minutes later bit into the best omelet I’ve had in years.  So here I publicly apologize to Jeff for doubting him and thank him for his culinary prowess.  And Cocky for being so mellow in her old age and letting him take over.  We ate our omelet breakfast at 4 in the morning and then went to bed, beyond satisfied at the perfection of the whole night.

I’m very proud of Walking with Wolf, and the great response to it affirms my own belief in its value.  I can’t really express, even though I guess I’m a writer now and should be able to, how thankful I am that people are liking it.  I can’t imagine all the years of work Wolf and I put into it ending with a sub-standard result, when people wouldn’t be able to look me in the eye after they’ve read it, if they even had. But now I can look people in their eye and talk about my book and know that it is as good as I could make it.  Not only was I given the privilege and pleasure of getting to know Wolf and telling his story, but I managed to do it right, and I get teary every time I even think about that (I am teary now).  I am so thankful that this is how this project turned out, as I said, I can’t even begin to express my amazement and my gratitude.

There is nothing like having cancer at 31 years of age, and seriously facing your mortality, to put a different spin on birthdays.  I don’t mind the idea of getting older, I’m just happy to be alive. I feel that it has all been a gift, the last twenty years, and each year that passes is another deposit in my giftbag. So turning fifty hasn’t bothered me at all.  The giftbag grows. As it happened, my 50th birthday party was the best way possible for entering the next part of my life. It was a party held out on Yasgar’s, I mean Cole’s, farm, I mean property, half an hour out of Hamilton.  And will be now and forever known as Kstock.

Carolyn & Ziggy

Friends are the best.  I come from a very small family – one sister, neither of us with children – our parents having died over ten years ago. In the background is a large Ukrainian clan but they mostly live far away. Vi and Andy taught us to nourish and honor our friendships and both my sister Maggie and I have benefited from their counsel. And now that I am fifty, with no children, and Maggie and her husband Tom living far away in Washington State, it is even more important that I have great friends.  And they really came out of the woods for my birthday, and many of them really cranked it out to make it a great one.

Chuck, Mike, Freda, MaggieMike and Freda Cole, who have held some rocking parties over the years, know how to do it.  Freda, east coast gal, can’t make enough food (and others contribute) and it is always beyond delicious.  We will never starve at one of her gatherings. Mike takes care of the outdoor details – together they make everything flow.  They are both real gracious hosts when the strangers start arriving and welcome all into their home.  They moved to this big old farmhouse over a year ago and it is definitely made for holding an event like Kstock.  There must have been close to one hundred folks there, but we were spread out around the property, there was lots of room for camping, lots of room for dancing – people could wander off for private tete-a-tetes, or whatever you might wanna do in the bushes.

Sol, Amelia & Jaaziah in the bushes

 

Maggie & MIke on the bacon

My seeester Maggie came from Washington State and spent a couple days with Freda and Mike getting ready, helping Freda with food, and making the huge signs that could be seen a kilometer away on the road – “Kstock 2008″ – for those who didn’t know where they were going.  The Kstock thing started with my friends Treeza and Rick north of Toronto (and Terry, Steve and Gloria), who not only started saying “we’re going to Kstock” but on my birthday card Rick provided a copy of his original ticket from the real Woodstock – kinda brought it all together.  

 

       Treeza & get-down Gloria

 

Chuck, Stu, Dawson & Coral 

 

 

 

 

Then the gang from Westport came to truly turn it into a musical happening.  Chuck, Carolyn, Marty, Sandy, Stu, Dave, Helen, John, Susan, Dawson and Coral filled their vehicles (a bad day for footprints in carbon) with instruments, speakers and camping gear and brought their various musical talents up the highway. 

 

 

Nineth Line – a jump ‘n jive band kept us hopping;

 

 

 

King of the Swingers – a kinda roadside swing ‘n dixie-style band brought the music off the stage and made us laugh (and keep dancing);

 

 

 

 

 

Then the “other band” played by the campfire with mandolin, accordian, stand up bass and guitar, beautiful renditions of bluegrass, country and folk tunes (most notably, for this little Steve Earle worshipper, Copperhead Road).  The music never stopped from early in the evening till I don’t know when in the early morning hours.  Nineth Line had learned a couple new songs for the occasion – I’ve been bugging them to learn a Latin rhythm or two and they got it done.  They were hot that night, and just kept getting hotter as the night went on.

Since I love to dance more than just about anything (well, dancing on a big rock in the middle of a lush forest beside a lake with a beautiful man who dances is ideal) this party played out just as I would hope to celebrate…we danced from start to finish, and I saw most of the folks up on their feet at some point. Of course, in Canada I’ve always found the dance floors filled more with females than males and this night was no exception – I’ll always remember a wild night in Montezuma, on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, when there were about thirty men dancing and only four women.  Now that! was a dream…but I digress.

Then there were the people who had come from far and wide for the occasion:  my sister probably came the furthest, from the mountains of Washington State.  But the Smokey Mountains of Tennessee were represented by our friend Kathy Lowery, who left Hamilton and married an old sweetheart (and he is), Stan, a few years ago.  Freda, our friend Dean, and I have ventured down a few times to Tennessee to visit them on their beautiful porch that looks out on those perty mountains.      In that time we’ve become friends with some of theirs, particularly William and Missy Murphy and William’s parents Gerry and Shorty.  We’ve spent a lot of hours on Kathy’s porch with the gang playing bluegrass and singing.  William’s dad, Gerry, has been struggling with cancer for a couple of years and without him able to join in, William and Missy stopped playing music.  At Kstock, they got up on the stage and sang a few sweet songs again, despite the lengthy absence from strumming and singing, and it was wonderful to hear them.  They’ve got a couple of the biggest warmest smiles in the state, and that they would jump on their motorcycle and drive north from Tennessee for Kstock was another gift in my giftbag.

A couple days before the party, I got a phone call from my friend Jean Trickey, from Little Rock, Arkansas, who said she had booked her ticket and was on her way! We’ve managed to spend some great weekends together in the last couple of years, her daughter’s wedding in Little Rock, and the 50th Anniversary of the Little Rock Nine, of which Jean is one of those brave teenagers who back in 1957 walked through the hateful crowd to be one of the first black kids to attend Central High School.  I had gone last year to Little Rock for the 50th, (a phenomenal occasion it was), seen John Lewis the freedom fighter, met Ruby Bridges the little girl in the Norman Rockwell painting, shook Bill Clinton’s hand, got snagged on his secret service guy…again, I digress…but Jean had been so busy on these occasions that we really only got to talk a bit late at night when she finally could sit down.  So to have her come for the weekend for my birthday, stay for a few days and have some down time to just talk (alot about Barack and Hillary of course), to dance as we love to do, and to see her get up on the stage and belt out “Women be wise, keep your mouth shut, don’t advertise your man” (a wise old song) was another big deposit in the gift bag. 

 

 

 

 

 

Jean being here brought out her sons Isaiah (we had real Toronto paparazzi there) and Sol from Toronto and their kids, Amelia and Jaaziah, who added extra joy and energy to the occasion. (Many of these photos were from either Isaiah, Peter or Marty – thanks guys)

 

 K, Sol, Isaiah, & Miss Kathy from Tennessee

 

 

The Trickey clan is always interesting, fun, dynamic, and loud (in this gang, I don’t feel like the loudest in the room) – great to have three generations represented at Kstock. (Notice the photographic image of me on the cake – what will we eat next?)

      Kay, Sol, Amelia & Jaaziah talk cake business

 

 

 

 

 

And then there was my soul sister Cocky who lives in a nature sanctuary outside of Freeport, Maine and her partner Peter MacMillen.  They had been up in Temagami, on Peter’s beautiful island, and came down from the north for the event.  Cocky has been here in the Hammer often, but Peter went well out of his way for this one.  

 

And along with my close friends Linda and Bill Murray from Charlton (along with Jean and Cocky, we all lived up in the Temiskaming area of northeastern Ontario for years – the Murrays still do), Patti and Leo Lessard and Terry and Ted from Mattawa, they brought the fresh clean northern air down to the Hammer. Cocky,  Jean and I are a feisty trio when we get together, which doesn’t happen very often, but I love these women and to have a few days together was beautiful.  

 

 

 

Beyond these folks there was Bill and Cheryl from Virginia, Lynda and Carole representing Guelph, friends from Toronto, Freda’s family, fine Hammerfolk and good neighbours, a number of old high school friends I hadn’t seen in years, the now-getting-old kids of friends, and a couple of my favorite dogs, Alpha and Ziggy. It all added up to the best party ever. 

After this wild summer of rain and thunderstorms, the sky was completely clear, the temperature perfect all night long for being outside dancing (I guess some people were sitting) or around the campfire, people camped in comfort and peace, and we all woke up to more sunshine.  Freda and Mike and gang made us a big breakfast, only after making a deal with the Swingers to play just a few more tunes in the morning.  That Stu can drum on anything! We swam in the pool and I opened my gifts (the ones not already in the giftbag).  

 

 Stu, John & Marty, most of the Swingers

 

 

 

I ceremoniously burned the box full of paper copies of Walking with Wolf (Steve Earle was doing his Sirius radio show in the background as this happened – it was all so poignant).  I have been printing out copies of the manuscript for how many years? and no longer need them, so I put the box on the coals and slowly watched it catch fire and disintegrate.  It was a cleansing and a celebration.  If I do nothing else of value in my life, I managed to get this book written and published while Wolf and I are still alive, and miraculously before I turned 50!

It was at the moment that the last of the overnight guests had got in their cars and honked their way down the road, leaving only Freda, Mike, Maggie, Cocky, Jean and I with Isaiah and Jaaziah, that the storm hit. Everything had been cleaned up, put inside, as we could see the storm approaching over the fields.  There was some heavy rain that we watched from the porch, amazed that this whole outdoor event went on without a hitch, not a drop of rain to spoil anything, no chance for a mud-dance like at the real Woodstock.  Just as the storm seemed to have subsided there was one HUGE thunderclap with one HUGE bolt of lightning – Jean was just putting her hand on the outhouse door and was shook to her bones.  Jaaziah was in the car, but Isaiah was still outside and could hear the sizzle of electricity in the air.  I think Jean’s hair went a little curlier and we all jumped and were rocked all over. Just one CLAP that carried the power of the whole dark sky. How lucky were we that none of us were hurt by this extremely close electrical jolt – it would have been a horrible way to end perfection – and life has been so good for me lately that a bolt of lightning almost feels inevitable – and that the storm waited until our friends were safely on their way home.  One last grand hurrah, the big finish, to Kstock 2008! The gratitude I feel to all my friends who came out and worked, then played, so hard is impossible to express. Peace, love and grooviness will have to do!

It is Sunday afternoon.  I’m back at my wireless aerie here at Bob and Susana’s Cabure Cafe.  The soft clouds are floating about, obscuring the treetops and reducing the view of the ocean today, but the sun is on the other side of the clouds and so it is warm and bright.  Monteverde’s mists change the scene as constantly as our lives do – we go from great moments of clarity to dark clouds on our horizons to foggy obscurity and back to sun-sparkling visual bounty. Life constantly sends us down different paths and the peek around the next corner is sometimes taken with great anticipation, other times with great trepidation.

Wolf and I made a presentation yesterday to a group of visiting administrators from protected areas throughout the world from Conservation International.  Representatives of Ghana, Guyana, Brazil and Figi along with a dozen other countries were there.  We didn’t have more than a little time as their program was already very full, but it was nice to talk about the book and Wolf’s contribution to conservation to a group of people who participate in this work in protected areas every day.  I never write down anything when I talk in front of groups and then often wish I had remembered to say such and such. However, I forgive myself and carry on. With each presentation, I’m sure I’ll get better, but it is also a matter of gearing what we say to our audience, adapting to English or Spanish, and the amount of time we have.  It was an honor to have the time that we did to speak with these people – we left before we had a chance to sell books and our friend Mercedes was going to take care of that in the coffee break.  Hope we sold some as just to know that Walking with Wolf would maybe end up in southeast Asia, Africa or South America soon is very exciting.

One place the book is going is to the Ukraine.  This is very poignant for me, as my father’s parents were both from the Ukraine, having arrived as teenagers on the Canadian prairies in the early 1900s.  My last name, Chornook, is the result of a Canadian customs agent’s choice of spelling – my grandfather was the only one of his family who was given this spelling from his original name Cherniuk.  A woman here in Monteverde, Betsy, bought a book to send to her son who is a peace corp worker stationed in the Ukraine.  So it was exciting to sign the book with the hopes that her son may run into one of my Cherniuk relatives while sitting with a traiga of vodka in a cafe.

The Quaker meeting this morning was, as always, silent – up until the last ten minutes or so.  The first person to stand and speak was local biologist Mills Tandy who stood and thanked Wolf and I for writing the book and speaking so honestly about the community and recording this important history.  He said, “I’ve waited with great anticipation for this book since I heard about it and have to say that it has far exceeded my expectations.”  Well, his words brought tears to my eyes and they stayed there for the remainder of the meeting.

When it got to what is called after-thoughts, that is the moment after we have broken the silence and greeted each other but a chance is given for further thoughts to be expressed, Wolf’s wife Lucky stood up and, fighting her tears, talked about how people come and go in this community but so often come back and are always welcomed – and that is what makes it the dynamic place it is.  Her son Antonio, wife Adair and their children Skye and Sam are headed back to Connecticut after one full year here. They left in a taxi for the airport right after meeting.  Well this comment by Lucky started an outpouring of similar messages by a number of people both retiterating her thoughts or expressing something similar.  Katy Van Dusen spoke about Ann Kreigel, a woman who lived here back in the 70s and then died suddenly and prematurely in the early 90s after being bitten by a squirrel.  She had had a profound effect on Katy’s life and on many other programs and events in the community and was a great example of someone who came and left their valuable contribution here.  Her sudden and early death was a reminder about the importance of expressing your love for those you care about each day.  Katy also spoke through tears.  It was hard to break up the meeting today – people seemed to want to stay and share their appreciation for this community and this meeting that gives us all a chance to be reflective, communal, spiritual and social all at once.

It is also Father’s Day and that of course makes me think of my father, Andy Chornook, who I write about briefly in Walking with Wolf, who died of cancer very quickly after diagnosis in 1996, twelve years ago.  How the time has gone by.  And thinking about that makes me think of the people I now know who are struggling with this nasty disease:  my friend Lori Yates’ mother in Hamilton, who has just started chemo for lung cancer; Monteverde’s friend, Andy Sninsky, who is in Austria being treated for what is maybe bone cancer, maybe leukemia, maybe something else – Andy and his wife Inge have run the Good Times quarterly magazine that highlights Costa Rican and Nicaraguan tourism destinations for several years and have done a number of pieces of early publicity for our book.  Wolf and I, as the rest of the community, have them in our hearts.  And a female Andy, Andy Walker, who has lived for a few years with her talented family here in Monteverde and just left a day or two ago for further treatments in Texas on a difficult melanoma.  Our thoughts follow her as well.

These tales of cancer diagnosis, treatments, survival and sadness go on relentlessly.  As a survivor myself, I both identify with the fear and the difficulty, but also send messages of encouragement and strength. None of it is easy and I’m forever greatful to have lived to tell my own story as well as Wolf’s. For the most part I look down the trail with excitement and courage, but I know all too well just how scary that unknown bend in the trail can be.

I keep breathing, trying not to get ahead of myself, filling my days by checking off tasks from my list, my nights with song and dance as much as possible, taking last minute delays in stride, knowing that Walking with Wolf is but days away from being born. The only other event in my life that required this much patience was when I had cancer.  I never considered myself particularly patient – I’m not normally anxious either – I just like to get things done.  Pro-active, that’s how I’d describe myself, and it is when I can’t do anything to expedite a situation that I start to lose patience.  In 1991, when I was beating cancer with chemotherapy and then radiation, I had to learn how to live one day at a time, that you couldn’t rush the process, and that being relaxed was much more effective than being antsy.  I learned how to wait.

Back in the 1980s, I became friends with Gary Potts, who was the Chief of the Ojibway of Bear Island, the Teme-Augama Anishnabai, on beautiful Lake Temagami in northeastern Ontario.  We were all concerned with the future of the area – the health of the lake, the survival of the forests, the fish, the moose, the people. Gary’s concern came from his blood, his heritage and his spiritual tie to the land that his people had lived on forever.  I lived a couple of hours further north of Temagami, and came into the area as a visitor, loving to swim in the cold deep clear water of the lake, canoe past the craggy rocky shoreline, walk softly on the pine-needle floor of the forest.  I became involved with the Temagami Wilderness Society, initially concerned about the environment and the pine trees, but soon learned about the native’s struggle for social justice.  After much public debate, soul searching, and through the experience of knowing the local inhabitants on all sides of the issues, I stopped calling myself an environmentalist and started calling myself a social activist.  Ever since, I have tried to proceed in any activism I’ve been involved in with the well-being of all parties – human and non-human – as my motivation because I just can’t accept that only saving the trees, important though that may be, is the answer.

Although there were stresses in the relationships between local landowners, the government,  forestry and mining companies and their employees, the natives, and the environmentalists – we all had our own “agendas” afterall – somehow I managed to forge a respectful, warm relationship with Gary.  And because of knowing him, I learned a lot.  One of the things he taught me, which came in very handy in the years that followed when I was fighting the “big C”, was about patience.  We were in the middle of the blockading of a logging road – an action instigated by the environmentalists but ultimately controlled by the Anishnabai – and even as we stood our ground, tall pine trees were being cut, some by industry, some by activists with a different idea on how to manage the situation.  In the final days of the environmentalists’ blockade, after I had been living in a tent in the bush for several weeks (this, about a year before I would be diagnosed with cancer), having dealt with actions and controversy on a daily basis, my physical energy was ebbing and with each blow to the forest around us, my spirit suffered. 

One day, on the shore of Lake Wakimika, I had a conversation with Gary. When he realized that I was losing faith and strength, he reminded me of how long the native people of North America have been working to see the treaties that were signed honoured, to reclaim their lands, to right the many wrongs that were imposed on them.  He said “Kay, if we cried over every tree that has fallen, every plant that has been stepped on, every battle that we’ve lost – even though these things are important – we wouldn’t have the energy to continue the struggle. You say a prayer for the loss and then pick up and carry on. And laugh alot. It has taken an incredible amount of patience and  perseverance to sustain our energy and continue on our path. If your path is a just one, you can keep going forward despite the many roadblocks.”   

His words have stayed with me and supported me now through many of my own struggles – most profoundly during my cancer treatments, and again, during these last months, his voice has been whispering in the back of my conscience.  I will always love Gary for his kindness and admire his tenacity and his heart. Whenever I manage to get back onto that glorious Lake Temagami, seeing this man, whose beauty equals that of the land he is so much apart of, is a gift. We’ve laughed together much more than we’ve cried, but there have been many tears as well.  And many lessons.

So I repeat his words now, in these final days of waiting for Walking with Wolf. I will be fine, before I know it that book will be in my hands and I’ll be on that plane to Costa Rica. Patience, Kay, patience. However, may I say that if there is one more delay, I just might be heard screaming “Give me an epidural – PLEASE!”

December 2014
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